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Listening Post / Brief reviews of select releases


Frank Sinatra, "Romance: Songs From the Heart" (Capitol/EMI). You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that what we have here is just a new repackaging in a potentially infinite series -- a standard effort to exploit the glorious Capitol Sinatra catalog for Valentine's Day. You could, then, forever curse capitalism for its unending capacity for insensitivity and besmirchment. Or you could -- if you simply considered this for what it is -- think of it as one of the finest one-disc compilations of '50s Capitol Sinatra you'll ever find. James Ritz's notes are fine and Rob Christie's selection of Sinatra's Capitol best is uncommonly good. As for the "Romance" mood connotation, you could argue that except for the cutesy stuff ("High Hopes"), almost everything he recorded fell into the category of "Romance: Songs from the Heart," including a good half of the swingers (of which there are plenty here). So it's a lot of the man's best work from his best period. America's heart still beats to this stuff. 4 stars (out of 4) (Jeff Simon)


Various Artists, "L Tunes: Music From and Inspired by 'The L Word' (Columbia). A collection of tunes to accompany the stylish Showtime original series "The L Word," "L Tunes" does its job well. The series is set in West Hollywood, and takes up where its East Coast corollary "Sex in the City" left off by tracing the love lives of a group of close-knit women. The drama in the series comes with a capital "D," and so does the music collected on "L Tunes," none of which has much in common other than a certain narcissistic angst and a female lead vocalist. The track listing seems arbitrary, but that doesn't mean that some beautiful songs -- Tori Amos' chilling "A Sorta Fairytale," PJ Harvey's visceral death-ode "Down By the Water," Nina Simone's transcendent "Do I Move You," Fiona Apple's moody chamber-pop nod to Shakespeare "Sleep to Dream" -- haven't managed to end up on the playlist. There's nothing here you can't find somewhere else, however, which makes "L Tunes" little more than a lifestyle accessory for fans of "The L Word," which is itself a lifestyle accessory. Hmmm. 2 stars (Jeff Miers)


Crowded House, "Farewell to the World" (Capitol/EMI). A twin-disc set documenting the final show performed by one of Australia's finest pop bands, "Farewell to the World" is a bittersweet goodbye. Crowded House perfected a radio-friendly melodic stew with roots in new wave, much like the band that gave birth to it, the splendid Split Enz. Neil Finn, the band's guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, penned unapologetically pop tunes, three-minute melodic constructs that never missed, chord progressions that always moved forward toward some grand harmonic and emotional payoff. Sadly, the group, though successful, was never quite as successful as its refined and remarkably consistent music suggested it should've been. "Farewell" is a bit sad, then, though the jubilant performance (and the remarkably enthused participation of the hometown crowd at the Sydney Opera House on this night in 1996) celebrates the group's gifts, rather than mourning the end of a fine, fine band. Pop music this smart, moving and well-played has become increasingly rare since Finn and Co. called it quits. 3 1/2 stars (J.M.)


>New Music

Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe, The Carbon Copy Building, a comic book opera sung by Toby Twining and other singers and performed by members of Bang on a Can, text and drawings by Ben Katchor (Cantaloupe). Nothing that came from such talented people could be anything like a waste of time. Even so, a stubborn and apparently ineradicable banality clings to this "comic book opera" composed by the three extraordinary founders of Bang on a Can. If you're unfamiliar with the rock-influenced post-minimalist music of Gordon, Lang and Wolfe, it is, at its best, riveting and even hair-raising. So a good deal of this music is as witty as the text intends it to be. The tale is of two identical buildings and their disparate inhabitants -- one upscale called the Palatine (on Park Manure Avenue) and one downscale called the Palaver (on Rigol Street). No matter how you slice it, though, a contrapuntal round on "would you care for dessert?/ Yes, cherry cheesecake with two forks and two decaffeinated coffees" ceases its wittiness sooner rather than later. Even so, it's hard to reject a story with "an architectural historian" who, according to Ben Katchor's accompanying graphic tale, "despite frequent bathing and the use of men's colognes" still "smells of carbon paper: an oleaginous sooty odor." 2 1/2 stars (J.S.)



Beethoven, Piano Sonatas Vol. 2 -- Opp. 13 "Pathetique," 14, 22, 53 "Waldstein," 78, 79, 90, 101, 106 "Hammerklavier" performed by pianist Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi, three discs). After Paul Lewis plays the immortal opening chords of the Grave introduction to the first movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata, there is a pause so long, that you wonder if something happened to the pianist in the interim. Did he pass out? Sneak off for a cigarette? Answer his cell phone? No, it's just a rest so long that Glenn Gould, in his eccentric prime, might have gotten away with but which one certainly doesn't expect from young pianists -- especially not those mentored by the venerable maestro of silvery elegance, Alfred Brendel. Here is the extraordinary second installment in one of the most compelling Beethoven Sonata series in an age that's marvelously replete with them. It's a three disc set of 10 Beethoven Sonatas that begins with that highly idiosyncratic but gorgeous "Pathetique" and ends with that fabled Matterhorn for pianists everywhere, the "Hammerklavier" which Lewis performs as if he were born to it, with all the logic and technical ease in the world. Also included are the "Waldstein" and some wonderful lesser-known sonatas. The first volume in this series was Lewis' justly acclaimed reading of the three Sonatas in Beethoven's Op. 31 but this confirms that the 34-year-old pianist is every bit the young titan he seemed. Magnificent. 4 stars (J.S.)


Alison Balsom, Caprice, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner, conductor (EMI Classics). Trumpeter Alison Balsom is having a blast. Recently named "Young British Classical Performer of the Year," she's shown blond and barefoot, lounging in a low-cut dress, trumpet to her lips. Musically, too, she ventures where not too many trumpeters have ventured before. Piazzolla tangos have a circus-like sense of fun. Seven Spanish songs of de Falla, especially the serene "Asturiana," are atmospheric and lyrical. On the restrained side, there's Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" and the wandering, wondering "Nocturne" from the Trumpet Concerto of Henri Tomasi. Mozart himself would have gotten a kick out of a "Turkish March" in which much liberty is taken. And finally, you have to love the idea of a trumpet arrangement of "Der Hoelle Rache" from "The Magic Flute." They should use it to accompany a high-wire act. 3 stars (Mary Kunz Goldman)

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